MEMPHIS, Tenn. —- We are learning more about the damage caused by a huge water main break in downtown Memphis.
Olymbec Plaza on Monroe Avenue in downtown Memphis is home to 25 businesses from law firms to Immigration Court, but all of them have been shut down for the last two weeks because of flooding from a broken water main.
“There was water running for almost 18 hours, so it completely flooded at Monroe Avenue, which is the building that we’re standing in currently, causing our entire electrical fire safety and freight elevator to be completely submerged in water,” said General Manager Jordana Berger.
Video shows the water bubbling up into the street back on October 1st, and that was just the start.
Businesses say it got progressively worse as they made calls to MLGW and couldn’t get a response. When someone did come out, they say it still took hours to shut off the water that now was flooding basements and stairwells.
“Every couple of months we’re having to deal with the same issue,” Berger said. “This time it was our building before it was our neighbors across the street. And there just seems to be no accountability.”
Nick Newman is MLGW’s Vice President of Engineering and Operations. He says the utility company is still investigating what caused the eight-inch water main to rupture on Monroe but breaks can be from a sudden change in temperature, extremely cold weather, or a really dry summer.
“The ground moves from being so dry and also temperature changes. And that can cause different pressures in the system that would actually make a main break,” Newman said.
But business owners want to know why it took hours for MLGW to respond and to shut off the water while their property was being flooded.
MLGW says customer service trucks respond first to evaluate if it is a main break and call another truck to make repairs.
“So the employees are required to be in the shop in one hour,” Newman said. “So if they get called and said ‘Hey, we’ve got a main break. You have to be in the shop in one hour.’ Now if they’re already on the clock working, just whoever’s first available to get there.”
In 2019, similar flooding happened. John Weakley showed us how water poured into his printing business in 2019. Two weeks ago, the same area was flooding again.
“I am like ‘I can’t believe it’s happening again in such a short time the exact same thing,'” Weakley said.
“MLGW has such a history of things like this occurring,” immigration lawyer Barry Frager said. “They couldn’t have been more proactive in setting up a protocol. In case it happened again since it happened again in this building in 2019.”
While businesses on Monroe say they are seeing too many of these breaks, MLGW says there really haven’t been that many.
“I know of two main breaks in that area over the last, I don’t know the timeframe, maybe the last ten years,” Newman said. “There was another one that was broken on that street. And there were some different circumstances on that line where that wasn’t just completely a main failure.”
He says MLGW averages 400 to 450 breaks a year over 4,000 miles of main water lines and that is pretty normal.
“And actually we have it really good, but what we will do is go in and look at specific areas where we see. So if we see several main breaks on the street, if we see about two on the street, well then we’re going to look at what’s causing these main breaks. Do we need to go in and replace this section of pipe?” Newman said.
But business owners say if Memphis wants to attract more businesses, they need to do something about infrastructure.
“We want to make sure that the basics are covered. Water, electricity, gas, security,” Berger said. “That’s the only way Memphis is really going to grow.”
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, who had a main break in his neighborhood recently, says it’s worth taking a look.
“You have no alternative. You got to fix it,” Strickland said. “And if we’re going to function, if we want a functioning downtown, growing downtown, which we have, we need to aggressively tackle these.”
The businesses want MLGW to cover their damages. MLGW says its claims department will investigate any claims made.
Mayor Strickland says MLGW should pay if the break is their fault but he first wants to find out what caused the main break and if it’s a bigger issue.